Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jeffrey Green: 'Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Booker T. Washington'

[Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Clarinet Quintet (35:39); Harold Wright, clarinet; Virginia Eskin, piano; Michael Ludwig, violin; Hawthorne String Quartet; Koch 3 7056 2H1 (1992)]

The English historian Jeffrey Green is author of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life, published by Pickering & Chatto Publishers (2011). He is also a Guest Blogger at AfriClassical. This is his fourth contribution.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Booker T. Washington

Jeffrey Green

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was the most famous black person in Britain in the first ten years of the twentieth century – he was replaced by Texas-born world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in 1911. Likewise, in the United States of America the most famous black person in this period was educator Booker T. Washington.

The British composer’s Twenty-four Negro Melodies, transcribed for pianoforte solo were published in 1905, and had a preface by the American. As Coleridge-Taylor had made his first visit to America in 1904, it is easy to believe that it was at that time that the two men discussed Negro Spirituals – which are the basis for sixteen of those twenty-four melodies. I have seen websites that suggest this.

A series of checks shows that belief to be false.

The preface was written at Tuskegee, Alabama and is dated October 24, 1904. You can see the entire article on the Booker T. Washington Papers site of the University of Illinois Press (this site is a delight to use, but it will soon be subscription only).[1] Coleridge-Taylor sailed from Liverpool on the Saxonia, bound for Boston, Massachusetts, on 25 October 1904.[2] The two men had not met at that time.

Washington said that in his response, of 10 June 1904, to Coleridge-Taylor’s letter of 21 May 1904 which had asked for advice and support during the composer’s visit.[3] He told the Briton “I admire greatly the work which you have done” and advised “Your name is quite familiar among the intelligent colored people of this county, but I very much fear you are not known very much except exclusively musical circles among the white people, in the latter respect you will have to advertise yourself”.

The publisher of Twenty-four Negro Melodies was Oliver Ditson, and it seems that their files do not exist. So when was this work commissioned? The 1915 biography used Coleridge-Taylor’s letters to Mamie and Andrew Hilyer, and in one dated 2 May 1903 we see Coleridge-Taylor writing “I have been asked to write a book on Negro Music by a firm of publishers in the States, and shall probably undertake it”, and on 14 September 1904 he told Hilyer “Ditsons, [sic] are the only publishers who have written to express their thanks and appreciation of my work”.[4]

The two men finally met, in Boston before the composer sailed back to England on 13 December 1904.

The educator’s daughter Portia was a fine pianist, who was to study in Berlin for two years. She picked C-T’s arrangement of “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child” at her audition with Professor Martin Krause. She promised her father to visit Coleridge-Taylor in England.[5]

The complete twenty-four Negro melodies seem to have been issued in Britain, in the Musicians Library series which included Bach, Chopin, Liszt and Wagner too. This was priced at 7s 6d (£0.37p). A set of six, including Portia Washington’s choice, was published by Winthrop Rogers Ltd of London, and sold at 4s (£.20p). Two more volumes were printed in England. Unlike the full set, Washington’s introduction was absent.

The educator had recommended that Coleridge-Taylor contacted baritone Harry Burleigh for help, and the two men did cooperate during the 1904 tour, and again in 1906. Burleigh came to England and that friendship flourished. Burleigh had studied, in New York, with Czech maestro Antonin Dvorak and introduced him to Negro spirituals – which appear in the master’s ninth symphony From the New World. Coleridge-Taylor was an enthusiast for Dvorak’s music.

Coleridge-Taylor’s relationship with African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar has been misunderstood (see page 050 Paul Laurence Dunbar in England).

We appear to be some way from understanding Coleridge-Taylor’s friendships with black Americans.

[1] Major British universities and the British Library have the 14 volumes, as does the London Library. Volumes are on sale on Abe Books at £15-£20 each. Louis R. Harlan and Raymond Smock (eds), The Booker T. Washington Papers Vol 8 (1904-1906), pp 112-117.
[2] The Times (London), 24 October 1904, p 2 has Cunard’s advertisement. This matches Coleridge-Taylor’s letter to Andrew Hilyer of Washington, DC, dated 22 October 1904 quoted in W. C. Berwick Sayers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Musician. His Life and Letters London: Cassell, 1915, p 157 [note the 1927 edition has different type setting and so there are page number differences].
[3] Louis R. Harlan and Raymond W. Smock (eds), The Booker T. Washington Papers Vol 7, 1903-1904, pp 527-529.
[4] Berwick Sayers, Coleridge-Taylor pp 143, 155.
[5] Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901-1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp 117-118.

[Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List and a Bibliography by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, We are collaborating with the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation of the U.K.,]

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